Now Playing (Video Games)

Abas

Jester with no tears
Overwatch 2 has been a good mix of competition and time-killing. I'll just leave the fact that I'm on unranked unsaid.
 

chaosapiant

Ancient Marinade
I wish I could get into those games. Is there a bot mode? I don't enjoy the online company of other people and much prefer to play with myself.
 

Jer

The dotage of a dotard
Just finished my first playthrough of John Wick Hex, which took a pretty daring approach to a well-known property.

While most people would assume a John Wick game would be some fast-paced third-person action title with a large budget, this game eschews twitchy action for careful tactical plotting and execution instead, and has a heavy indie vibe to it. The visuals have a neon graphic novel style to them, and the animations and rag doll physics can get janky at times, but the voice acting is top notch (Ian McShane and Lance Reddick voice their characters from the films and Troy Baker is the antagonist).

This game is often incorrectly described as turn-based. In fact, everything plays out in real time in the game world, but you have all the time you want to choose your next action. Events then play out until your action completes or gets interrupted, or until you spot a new enemy, at which point the game pauses again while you decide what to do next. So while it has a little turn-based feel to it, it doesn’t have the command latency or causality problems that a true turn-based game would have.

The levels have a hex grid overlaid on them which dictates where people can move. (The antagonist is also nicknamed Hex, so there are your two reasons for the title of the game.) Since all positions are equidistant from each other and have 6 neighboring spaces, it makes it easier to reason about what’s going on, and allows for a lot of people and obstacles to potentially surround you at one time. As the game plays out you’ll see a timeline at the top of the screen that shows how long your potential actions will take, as well as how long the current actions of all visible enemies will take. This lets you plot your tactics, e.g. do you have enough time to close the gap with an enemy and parry away their gun before they shoot, and will doing that leave you open to being shot by another enemy before you can break their line of sight? This is a pretty cool setup that I haven’t seen executed in quite this way before (X-Com: Apocalypse in real time mode is one of the few analogs I can think of). I also love that one of the fastest actions you can do is throw your gun at an enemy to stun them. It’s a huge risk/reward move, because getting stuck without your gun can be an awful experience, but sometimes it really is the best option to avoid getting shot or cornered. Also, when you complete a level you can watch your playthrough in real time with a more dynamic camera, which looks a little janky but is fun.

The early levels of the game are very short and easy, as you rarely encounter more than 1 or 2 lackeys at a time, and they’re easily dispatched. While I was initially dubious about the game mechanics, the game design really started to shine about halfway through as it became more common to be facing 3-5 enemies at a time with nastier weapons and a lot more health. This really forces you to use all of the melee attacks available to you, as well as the environment itself, to stun enemies and break line of sight with enemy shooters long enough to take them out one by one. This can turn into a furious ballet at times, which really captures the essence of the combat from the films.

Boss encounters are interesting because these enemies are much better at dodging ranged fire, so you have to get up close and personal and beat the tar out of them to reduce their focus meter, and ideally lay them out stunned on the ground so you can pump them full of lead while they’re dazed. In many of these cases lackeys will keep appearing out of the wings too, so you have to stay on your toes.

Levels have spawn doors throughout, which I thought might feel cheap in practice, but it actually keeps the tempo of the game moving. You need to take people out and keep pressing forward or else more enemies will keep spawning in and you won’t get anywhere. Also, you see people spawning a second or more before they can act, so they’re sitting ducks if you’re positioned properly and can take a couple of shots at them.

Most locations also allow you to plant guns or bandages in specific levels before you get started, or pay for stat enhancements, so there’s some minor meta-planning involved. Then the game judges you on a variety of statistics at the end of each location, and there are titles you can earn if you accomplish certain feats (beat the location without using any bandages, use more than X types of weapons, have a shooting percentage above a certain level, etc.), so it encourages replay if you want to see how much you can hone your craft. You can also turn on expedited mode, which enforces a time limit of 7 seconds to make each of your moves rather than giving you unlimited time to plot.

I got this game on super-deep discount for $4, so it was a huge steal for the value it offered. I’ll probably play through it at least one more time, maybe in expedited mode, or maybe trying to do a no-healing run. If you liked the John Wick movies and are looking for something a bit different, you may enjoy this game a lot.
 

its_ArchroniX

Educated Fool
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Jer

The dotage of a dotard
Just wrapped up 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim. This was the most recent game from Vanillaware, the makers of Odin Sphere and Dragon’s Crown (among other things), and while it features the same really high quality 2D artwork they’re known for, it was a bit of a departure for them gameplay-wise.

About 2/3 of the game is more or less a visual novel, but presented through the mechanism of a “walk around and click on stuff and make dialog choices” adventure game. The other 1/3 of the game is pausable real-time tactical combat where you command a team of mecha through various scenarios. Both sides of the game are fun and interesting, and I got a solid 45 hours or so out of the main campaign, with some additional combat content unlocked afterward.

The story mode is told in vignettes from the perspectives of 13 different teenage protagonists. This sounds overwhelming, but you spend a lot of time with these characters, and things are doled out in a digestible way, so you never really get confused. The story sections aren’t delivered in chronological order, so you’re actively piecing together what’s going on in the broader narrative as you go. This makes for some interesting mysteries and twists, though the game leaves enough breadcrumbs for you that you can often figure out the big surprises before they’re officially revealed, though this doesn’t wind up diminishing them. The story itself is a sci-fi yarn anchored in 1985 Japan with lots of references to famous sci-fi movies, though its scope expands significantly as you go, touching on themes of man vs. technology, nature vs. nurture, and more. Everything ties together in a satisfying way by the end, and it’s one of the more unique video game stories I’ve encountered.

The battle mode represents what’s occurring toward the end of the story narratively, though the game has you alternate between story and battle sequences throughout the prologue before opening up and giving you more choice about where you want to focus. The real-time battles pit your 13 protagonists’ sentinels (mecha) against hordes of mechanized enemies, where you have to eliminate all of your opponents or last a certain amount of time without losing a terminal you’re required to defend. There are 4 different design generations of sentinels that each serve different combat roles, and there are some slight ability differences within a generation depending on the pilot. You earn points and rankings depending on how well you fight (minimizing damage to your sentinels, the city, and the terminal), and you can use your winnings to upgrade your sentinels and terminal defenses.

The combat itself plays out in real time until one of your team members is able to make a move, and then it pauses until you either issue a command or decline to do so. This keeps the pace brisk without making you fight the interface, and without breaking causality (much like John Wick Hex, of all things). Different abilities take different amounts of time to execute and cool down from, and use different amounts of energy, so you have to be judicious in how you plot out your tactics for maximum effect.

There are three different difficulty levels for the combat mode, and I found the default difficulty to be a bit too easy for me until the very end of the game, though they still did a good job of making a number of missions feel like you were on the verge of things going south. I haven’t tried the higher difficulty yet, so I can’t speak to its challenge level; but you can change difficulties at any time for any level, so you can adjust things as you see fit.

Sentinel pilots can only participate in two battles total before being required to sit out a round, and many battles offer you a bonus if you include certain characters on the forward strike team, so you have to do some juggling of your team members to get maximum benefit. Also, there’s an accumulating score bonus for winning battles in succession without resting (which would make all of your pilots available again), so there’s some potentially interesting risk/reward there, though you can usually work around it by just replaying an earlier mission to keep the streak going while giving an overloaded pilot a chance to sit out a battle.

After the prologue, which goes back and forth between story and battle modes, you’re given much more freedom to decide what to do. I opted to lean into the story, and take it as far as I could before doing battles for a while. Since story mode grants you upgrade currency for your sentinels after you complete each section, this may have made me a bit overpowered in battle mode. Eventually you’ll get to points in both modes where a certain amount of story progression is required to move the battle mode forward and vice-versa, with the story finally catching up to the start of the battle and following through to the ending.

I picked the game up on deep discount for $20, which was a steal for the value it offers. Even after finishing it there are some new combat scenarios unlocked, and the higher combat difficulty and ongoing sentinel enhancements can provide more gameplay if you’re interested. One of the more unique titles I’ve played in quite a while.
 

Boroking

In the mire of an ancient swamp
Have started playing Crusader Kings III, building up house Wessex into the Kingdom of England, whereupon my dashing and villainous Uncle, Prince Alfred II launched a claim for the throne enveloping my Kingdom in bloody civil war. He was defeated by my Grandson Prince Owen and imprisoned but in the ensuing chaos my control over the fiefs of Wales has slipped and my King Ethelweard I sits shakily upon his throne.

It’s incredibly addictive and all I can think about currently.
 

JudasMyGuide

Servant of the Secret Fire
Have started playing Crusader Kings III, building up house Wessex into the Kingdom of England, whereupon my dashing and villainous Uncle, Prince Alfred II launched a claim for the throne enveloping my Kingdom in bloody civil war. He was defeated by my Grandson Prince Owen and imprisoned but in the ensuing chaos my control over the fiefs of Wales has slipped and my King Ethelweard I sits shakily upon his throne.

It’s incredibly addictive and all I can think about currently.

I'm still trying to get into CK II from time to time, because Medieval Europe, of course, but so far the entry investment (temporal) seems really steep - I can't seem to learn how to do pretty much anything. I am in general not that apt at strategy games (the last one I managed well was Warcraft II, I even have trouble learning the ropes in Civ 6 and Medieval II - Total War) and this one seems like the next level.

I even bought several of the DLCs (the most important ones, i.e. Sons of Abraham, Legacy of Rome, The Old Gods, Way of Life, Conclave and Holy Fury, if I'm not mistaken), but I am currently postponing the inevitable jump into the cold water. I envy all those that already can operate the game. I even watched YT tutorials already, several of them, in fact, but it hasn't been much helpful as of yet.


NP:

I finished Mass Effect Trilogy (the remaster) recently, and let me say that although the game is definitely aimed at someone else (I would even say that I imagine this is what Star Trek must feel like - the humanistic ideals, the diplomacy, the galaxy-wide politics - though I never watched Star Trek myself, this is just my (un)educated guess), it really got under my skin and although I'm not inclined to replay it (also, all three games together are a friggin' monster, I actually first started last year), I definitely get why is it such a fan favourite.

In the indie stuff I tried (and currently loving) both Dead Cells and Infernax and my best friend recommended to me Children of Morta, which is really, really nice.

Also, I've had a few bad weeks recently, so I'm comfort-fooding - replaying Ori and the Blind Forest and both Diablo 2 Resurrected and III and the 2016's Doom.
 

Boroking

In the mire of an ancient swamp
I'm still trying to get into CK II from time to time, because Medieval Europe, of course, but so far the entry investment (temporal) seems really steep - I can't seem to learn how to do pretty much anything. I am in general not that apt at strategy games (the last one I managed well was Warcraft II, I even have trouble learning the ropes in Civ 6 and Medieval II - Total War) and this one seems like the next level.

I even bought several of the DLCs (the most important ones, i.e. Sons of Abraham, Legacy of Rome, The Old Gods, Way of Life, Conclave and Holy Fury, if I'm not mistaken), but I am currently postponing the inevitable jump into the cold water. I envy all those that already can operate the game. I even watched YT tutorials already, several of them, in fact, but it hasn't been much helpful as of yet.

It took me a lot of research and watching videos to just try and familiarise myself with the game layout, and there’s been a lot of mistakes along the way. It’s a deep , dense game, at least for me, and I’m sure there’s loads of clever tricks I’m missing out on. But the chaos and the shaky nature of my rule are part of the fun. It took a good 15 hours play time to get to be basically competent, and it’s hard to get the time to sink into it.
 

chaosapiant

Ancient Marinade
I've decided to finally playthrough the Gothic trilogy for once. Only ever played Risen, but loved it, and love PiranhaBytes design ethos. So far it's very good.
 

Jer

The dotage of a dotard
Started playing Hades a couple of weeks ago, and just recently completed my first escape attempt after a couple dozen tries.

I wasn’t a fan of previous Supergiant games (Bastion, Transistor, etc.) — they were always critical darlings, but I found them to be mechanically simplistic and lacking. But finally, with Hades, they’ve created something that actually lives up to the hype — a roguelite game with ever-increasing mechanical complexity, interwoven with narrative elements that tie directly into the game mechanics, both explaining those mechanics and driving the player to continue the loop and try to do better each time.

In this game death is a momentary frustration, but it also rewards you with more opportunities to interact with other characters to advance the story, as well as adding a growing array of permanent enhancements to your character and his weapons for your next run. NPC interactions don’t get stale, and at least for me have never repeated a line of dialogue once. Characters often comment on recent events related to your game experience, and it will take a long time and many runs to forge bonds with each of them and reap the resulting benefits.

There are a dizzying number of combinations of weapons and game mechanic modifiers, and the game is structured in such a way that it rewards you for trying out different things. Maybe you want to sacrifice 60% of your health, but in return get 2 health back every time you hit an enemy. Maybe you want to swap out one of your weapon’s moves for a completely different one that better suits your play style. Maybe you want to cozy up to a couple of specific gods to get better modifiers from them, or maybe you want to get help from as many different gods as possible because you have a modifier that gives you bonus damage based on how many different gods you’ve gotten modifications from. Even the next room you enter in this procedurally generated hellscape is a meaningful choice — do you need to up your maximum health, or do you want help from a particular god, or do you want to get more coins, or spend some? When one door opens, another one (or two, or three) closes. Such is life.

The game builds toward your first successful attempt to escape from the underworld, but in a pleasant surprise the scope of the game actually expands a bit more after you achieve this goal, incentivizing you to keep playing with even more different and difficult gameplay modifiers. And the story keeps developing after this point too.

I’m not sure when diminishing returns may kick in for me, but for now I’m content to keep playing and see where the story goes, and I’m glad to hear that a sequel’s in the works.
 

Jer

The dotage of a dotard
Finished the main story of Hades a while ago, but this really just opened up yet another phase of the game with even more stuff to do, so I’m still playing it, slowly approaching what I assume to be the epilogue. There are some pretty cool new weapon permutations and story beats after the initial “ending”, so it’s worth continuing if you enjoy the gameplay.

I’ve also been “playing” The House In Fata Morgana for PlayStation lately, but I use that term very loosely because this is a hardcore visual novel that only rarely lets you make choices. Still, the story has been really interesting, and often quite dark, though a few sections have dragged a bit. It’s nice because you can engage with it for a short session or a long one and save at any time. It’s also good for remote play via mobile since lag doesn’t create any problems for this title.

Miraculously I’m still playing Jackal Squad on mobile, though I’m about to upgrade my gear to what appears to be the last realistic rarity level that my patience will allow me to achieve. I’ll get as far as I can with the newly upgraded gear and then I think it’ll finally be time for me to move on.

Grabbed the “free for real” version of Vampire Survivors on mobile. No compulsory ads, no limits on how much you can play, and no microtransaction bullshit. What a breath of fresh air. You can elect to watch an ad to get a free revive, and you can elect to watch a second one to collect extra gold at the end of the run, but realistically you don’t need to do either of those things to enjoy the game fully. I feel like the gaming press gave this title a little too much praise, but it’s an enjoyable roguelite that gets more interesting as you unlock more things, and the “move with autofire” gameplay is a perfect fit for mobile.

I got Persona 5 Royal and God Of War: Ragnarök for Christmas, and I’d picked up Death Stranding and Spider-Man: Miles Morales on deep discount a little while back, plus The Last Of Us Part II and the PS5 remake of Demon’s Souls have been staring at me from my coffee table for over a year already. And I have some PSVR titles I wanted to wrap up before the PSVR2 arrives in February, but clearly I’m not going to get to everything in the near future. Oh well. A good problem to have, I suppose.
 

Travis The Dragon

"Here's another fine mess you've gotten me into"
I'm wondering how an original arcade cabinet is converted into a MAME rom. Do you have to take out the circuit board and plug it into a computer and move everything over to the computer? Or do programmers know how to recreate these games? Or is there some other method? I've searched and searched everywhere like crazy and I can't find anything about this.
 
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